Story and photos from the Tour of Flanders courtesy of Myles at BikePure.org…
Last night BruggesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Medieval market square thundered with euro pop at itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worst. The Belgium people can produce cycling world champions by the trailer load; but they aint got a handle on rhythm and rock. The big haired denim on denim- on shoulder padded, leather ballads, were enough to counteract all the respect I was developing for their brewing industry.
10 hours later and 30,000 filled the square looking for a glimpse of Boonan. Regardless of Devolders win last year, big Tom was QuickstepÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favourite and the supporterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s idol. Yet, no one thought it was to be plain sailing there were other contenders. George circled the Columbia enclosure looking fit, handsome and already beaten. All the Italian camera crews stood outside the Katusha bus looking to interview their hopeful Fillippo Pozzato. The French journalists clutched at straws and shouted beleaguered questions at any rider with onions round his neck and dreamt of Hinualt. While the Spanish hacks lit candles and fidget with beads outside the Rabobank bus for Juan Antonio, praying that he might just win the 93rd RVV.
I stood and chatted to Dan Lloyd of Cervelo test team in the security of belonging, under their massive bus awing. The previous hour and a half made me realise how town centre religious preachers feel. The Saturday afternoon gospel sermon to those who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to know. Sounding out the end of the world and repentance. I visited five team buses and was met by the similar reaction to the preacher: bowed heads, total invisibility. Real looks of pity as I spread the word for BikePure and Dope free cyclesport. The doping problem in cycling is whispered in the major league. Thankfully, the evidence for its existence is on the decrease. It is a side of the sport few, understandably want to talk about on the morn of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. I console my self with a handful of sincere discussions, signings and a cheer from three Swedish guys in the crowd who see my Bike Pure jacket and raise their fists aloft to reveal a trio of beautiful blue wristbands. Rockin.
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I agree that the focus in cycle sport should be on the racing, not rumored enhancement and at 9.45 the 248 riders depart to an explosion of hope and passion. Ahead is 265km. 140km of a run in to sap the energy before the last half of climbs to the finish. The Ã¢â‚¬ËœTour of Flanders climbs ARE the race. All the Flemish towns have evolved from defensive settlements atop the few, scattered rises in a flat country. These towns have steep ascents, and most are cobbled. There are modern twisty roads up the Ã¢â‚¬ËœBergsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, but the climbs are preserved for the few times a year cycling transforms an empty, stone surfaced cart track into a stadium of wonder and noise.
The race hits the Molenberg and already riders are gone, cursed by their directors and forgotten. At the Wolfenberg all is together at the front and like a comets tail at the back. By the assent of the holy Kwaremont, the seven intervening cobbled section have done serious damage, The best 240 classic riders on the planet, now number under half that. All have raced through 180 km of concrete country roads to have a vision of pain and broken dreams. I photograph the leaders on the climb and cry with empathy for the back markers, fighting the 25 sprockets and the 10% gradient.
There are constant attacks but it all seems just a battle of erosion. With 50 k to go and the length covered of most pro races there at 80 riders in contention. Dan Lloyd is in the mix but every one knows it is all ablaut the last hour and a half. No matter how many 6-hour sessions the starters all did, by the Valkenberg with 35 to go, attrition has left 40 riders remaining in with a chance of the podium. The other 200 fine, professional cyclists genetically disguarded. CerveloÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Henrich Haussler, Hammond and Hushhovd in my nursery rhyme brain provide The Quick step director with a tongue twister, as they mark his menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s constant attack. Pozzato never leaves Boonan’s side and when they both get clear, Pozzato runs out of courage and wont work.
Such a day, racing around the concrete back roads of Belgium. Thousands of cars, all looking to see the event at multiple points. Finally, ignoring the finish, I land in Geraaldsbergan for the fine De ClercÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tearoom and of course, the Muur climb. The most famous climb of the whole race is furiously hard at the bottom; then steepens a lot, before it reaches the toughest bit, around the chapel at the summit. If a rider can shell his follow contenders and reach the top alone, a whirlwind of adrenalin and supporters energy will propel him the 20k to the finish line a victor.
Quicksteps Chavenel and Devolder had taken it in turns to test their two break away companions legs on the Tenbosse and when Devolder attacked on the lower Muur, it was like a rocket launch. Down two sprockets, out of the saddle and eyes focused on the cobbles, one meter ahead and half a meter up. Chavenel grimaces as the choice had obviously come from Peiters in the team car. (Editor’s Note: There’s video of this breakaway on Versus’ website.)
Devolder charged ahead and by the time he hit the big ring climb of the Bosberg (big ring for him, 39 by 16 for me on Sat!) he was 35 seconds clear and fixing his jersey. His fellow companions were swept up in the closing minutes and then with a K to go Henrich Haussler launched the same attack that nearly won him Milan SanRemo two weeks before and held of a rampaging bunch for second. His attack timely avoided a terrible crash where his team mate Thor touched wheels or a barrier or five other fallen riders but ultimately the ground at 80kph, to break his wrist.
It is a magical affair the RVV. If you race, if you follow pro cycle sport or if you are like the half a million Belgium folk who just come to see the race, Some time in your life make the effort to arrange the vacation on the last Sunday March: to see the finest pro cyclists in the world, be overcome and vanquished. Most of them even look normal suffering up the Koppenberg. Greatest one-day show on earth.
1 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step 6.01.04 (43,455 km/h)
2 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervelo Test Team 0.59
3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Silence-Lotto
4 Martijn Maaskant (Ned) Garmin – Slipstream
5 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha
6 Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank
7 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Team Columbia – Highroad
8 Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team
9 Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet – Colnago
11 Alexandre Pichot (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom
12 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team
13 Roger Hammond (GBr) Cervelo Test Team
14 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team Saxo Bank
15 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Rabobank
16 Roy Sentjens (Bel) Silence-Lotto
17 Kevin Van Impe (Bel) Quick Step
18 Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas
19 Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet – Colnago
20 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
21 Gerben LÃƒÂ¶wik (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team
22 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Silence-Lotto
23 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha
24 Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team
25 Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator
26 Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Astana
27 Leif Hoste (Bel) Silence-Lotto
28 Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Barloworld
29 FrÃƒÂ©dÃƒÂ©ric Guesdon (Fra) FranÃƒÂ§aise Des Jeux
30 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank
31 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 1.08
32 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas 1.11
33 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank 1.14
34 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia – Highroad 1.44
35 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence-Lotto 3.02
36 Anthony Geslin (Fra) FranÃƒÂ§aise Des Jeux 3.06
37 Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas 3.17
38 Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas
39 Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank
40 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step 4.37
41 Marco Bandiera (Ita) Lampre – N.G.C.
42 Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre – N.G.C.
43 GrÃƒÂ©gory Rast (Swi) Astana 4.57
44 Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 5.38
45 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team0D
46 Kristof Goddaert (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator 6.45
47 SaÃƒÂ¯d Haddou (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom
48 Steve Chainel (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom
49 Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Team Columbia – Highroad